The Bible is full of strength and comfort. One of our St. Andrew friends reminded me the other day that the words “Fear not” appear 365 times in the Bible. In other words, we can find encouragement for every day.
As we use scripture to face COVID-19, we’ve read Psalm 19. Let’s turn things around and look at Psalm 91.
It’s a song of great assurance that could have been written for times very much like ours:
You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress:
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence…
The ancient world was rife with disease, and because people often lived close together, without any safeguards, illness could spread very quickly. (The Hebrews’ escape from Egypt, of course, began in a time of plague.) Given how vulnerable everyone was, imagine how bold these words must have sounded:
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
Those words could have sounded crazy. But when the people of Israel faced fear, they turned it around. They saw it as an opportunity to trust in the strength of God.
Probably the greatest danger was fear – for as we have found, the worst response to a pandemic is panic. Time and again, the Hebrews found that God was in control.
Nowhere in their scriptures does God say, “Buck up, buttercup. You’re on your own here.” No, the consistent message is that we need God, and that God is with us. We can be strong in the Lord. We can turn fear around!
One passage from Psalm 91 especially jumps out at me, though:
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up…
As George Myers has reminded us, even the devil can quote scripture, for Satan used this verse to tempt Jesus into recklessness. Jesus replied with another verse from Deuteronomy: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Neither are we to misuse God’s word as license for carelessness. We have to take this virus seriously. But our God is greater than any virus, and he will be close at hand, all the way to the end of the story.
Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them
and show them my salvation.